A season-ending injury to University of Toledo senior linebacker Jaylen Coleman has created some uncertainty in the linebacking corps, but a deep group is ready to step in and contribute to the defense.
“It’s linebacker by committee,” UT linebackers coach Mike Ward said. “We’ve got a deep group. We still have depth. We still have to have that next-guy-up mentality.”
Coleman was productive in his junior year before a broken leg forced him to miss the rest of the season. In just six games, Coleman recorded a team-high 48 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. After recovering from his broken leg this offseason, he suffered an Achilles injury in the beginning of fall camp.
“There’s nothing like having that hammer out there like Jaylen,” junior linebacker Ja’Wuan Woodley said. “He’s a real live hammer once you’re right there beside him. It’s bittersweet because we have young talent that’s coming up, and they work just as hard to be in the role that they are in now.”
Woodley is set to start at the “Will” linebacker position, but Coleman’s spot at the “Mike” linebacker is currently occupied on the depth chart by sophomores Tyler Taafe and Richard Olekanma.
“It’s a big opportunity for all of us,” Olekanma said. “[Jaylen] was a really good player for us last year and the beginning of this year in fall camp. So we all have to step up and fill his shoes.”
Ward said the sophomore duo will be counted on heavily this season.
“Tyler is developing into a good leader and a very steady and solid player for us,” Ward said. “He’s playing smart and he’s playing fast. Rich has been playing both spots for us and has been doing a heck of a job. He gives you a bigger body with some length and some athleticism. We’re expecting a lot out of those two guys.”
Graduate transfer Jeremi Powell will also figure into the mix after coming to Toledo from the University of Florida.
“He’s had to learn the package in a short amount of time, because of the summer school he had to take,” Ward said of Powell. “He’s adjusted and the guys have accepted him. He’s fast and he’s very athletic and he’s tall. He’s got length and athleticism and that’s what we want.”
Other linebackers that could see time include junior Jack Linch, true freshman Tre’Shun Wilson, redshirt freshman Connor Lancia, and redshirt freshman Chris Norwood.
Woodley, who was Defensive MVP of the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl, will enter this season as the leader of the linebacking unit. He said the entire group will need to be ready when called upon.
“It’s just the next-man-up mentality that we have to have,” Woodley said.
With the opportunity for playing time and significant roles in the defense, the deep group has developed a close bond leading into the season.
“We’re all tight,” Taafe said. “We all communicate really well together and we’re all behind each other and we’ve got each other’s back.”
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